America, the Middle East, and the World: A Conversation with Tony Blair

The former Prime Minister discusses the challenges and opportunities facing the Biden administration twenty years after 9/11 and a decade after the Arab Spring.

On January 11, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Tony Blair. The former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, he currently serves as Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, an organization committed to reinvigorating the center ground in politics, supporting leaders around the globe in their fight against COVID-19, and providing solutions on issues ranging from extremism to the technological revolution. The following is a transcript of his conversation, lightly edited for grammar and syntax.

Robert Satloff: Hello and welcome to The Washington Institute. I am Rob Satloff, Executive Director of the Institute, and I am delighted to welcome you to a very special event.

Words like “unprecedented,” “seismic,” “historic”—we throw them around like confetti on a normal New Year’s Eve. But there is no doubt that the terms apply to the current situation as we continue with the worst public health crisis in a century and the worst economic crisis in nearly as long. We have just witnessed what many believe to be the most serious and deadly threat to our republic in 160 years. In ten days, we will inaugurate a new president who inherits all this as well as a world beset by crises and challenges—and the Middle East, of course, being no exception. In moments like this it makes sense to seek the wisdom of experience.

It is therefore a great privilege to host this event with our special guest, former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr. Blair is the Executive Chairman of the London-based Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He is the winner of three consecutive elections to serve as British Prime Minister, the only Labour leader to ever do so. He is one of the few true statesmen of our era. In fact, we confirmed that at The Washington Institute by awarding him our Scholar Statesmen medal, our highest honor, in 2010. It is now ten years later, and we are delighted to host this event with Mr. Blair in this consequential hour in the history of our nation and for our world. Welcome, thank you very much for joining us today!

Tony Blair: Thank you, Rob. It’s a great pleasure.

Satloff: I think it makes sense to begin with the events of last week. I will not ask you to comment on our domestic politics but rather on the impact of the recent events on America’s global standing and the leadership that people around the world hope to see from Washington and from President Biden to address all the collective issues that we have to face.

Blair: Well, to state the obvious, it was shocking and dismaying for America’s many friends around the world to see what happened. However, despite the outrage, your Constitution holds firm, your country holds firm. Joe Biden will be duly sworn in as president in a short period of time. And it is important that we condemn what has happened, but it is also important that we realize America stays strong and stays firm.

Secondly, Joe Biden as president-elect is pretty much the right man in the right place and at the right time because he is deeply experienced, and he is by instinct someone who tries to reach out to those who disagree as well as those who agree. Your politics has exploded on to the world stage by what happened last week. But many of the fissures in American politics and society are also occurring around the Western world right now. They have not taken as ugly and extraordinary a form as they did in Washington last week. But it is going to be important for American politics to heal itself because that will also give some solace to other countries with deeply divided politics.

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